For years now (with the exception of the covid dark years) I’ve been attending what is known as one of the biggest and best Kentucky Derby Parties in Saratoga Springs. Each year at the start of May, Saratogians head over to The Lodge (one of my very favorite local historic event venues) and begin re-entering society after the long winter. Reunited with many friends they may not have seen since December’s holiday party season. And ready to cheer on their pick… all to benefit Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar.
But I have a confession to make. It wasn’t until this year, when I had the idea to feature this benefit on The SCOOP, that I had a FULL appreciation of the impact this organization is having on the students of our community. Students who have proven themselves exceptional and dedicated. And students who have a dream of attending college and could benefit from extra support services and financial assistance to solidify their chances at fulfilling their future’s dreams.
support from every direction
The financial support provided to each chosen scholar comes in the form of computers, school supplies, testing fees, tutors, prom tickets, and so many more things that lighten the heavy financial burden of a high school education. I personally remember the high school years of guilt, watching my parents of five write check after check for uniforms, travel expenses, and everything else that came with varsity-level gymnastics. And although this support is critical in helping these children achieve both academic and extra curricular success, it’s the relationship with their mentors that provide a different type of support. And one that I would consider equally as valuable.
Michelle Funiciello is Saratoga Sponsor a Scholar’s Mentorship Coordinator. After years of being a mentor to scholar Lupe, she wanted to use her strength in connecting people to make an even bigger impact. “It is such and incredible journey to help facilitate a young persons’ growth… someone who has their whole life ahead of them.” She stresses the fact that the mentor benefits just as much as those of whom they are mentoring. “In giving, you receive” she says. A concept that I whole-heartedly agree with.
Third-time mentor Heather Straughter shared that her mentees always grew from strangers to family members in the span of their four years together. And it is not uncommon for them to attend her son’s sporting events and occasional family gatherings.
But it was CLEAR from my conversations with the scholars that evening, just how much they value their time with their mentors. Their monthly “get togethers” may be in the form of coffees, dinners, or cultural events. But underneath that is invaluable guidance and encouragement, slowly paving the path to their dreams. “I really want to go into criminal justice, so my mentor, Anita, is helping me explore the different options and attending some college visits with me” said Brooke, a junior in the program. Taylor, a sophomore scholar, shared that she’s really enjoying spending time with her new mentor, Carrie. Whether it’s chatting during shopping or frozen yogurt adventures, her mentor is already helping her to explore different avenues within the early childhood field, helping to set her up for success in her college-level early childhood class. Both scholars shared that although they get so much out of the weekly tutors offered, they especially enjoy time with their mentors.
JUST A FEW OF THE PARTY GO-ERS…
Derbying for a dream
Although I didn’t have a full appreciation of everything that Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar has done for our local students for over a decade now, many have been dedicated supporters of the cause since the first class was admitted 12 years ago. Others continue to come for the party, pick up a flyer or chat with one of the students at the check in table… and learn just a little more about the amazing work of SSAS. Jamie Shea, a local educator attending the event, shared “With all the events in Saratoga, Don and I wanted to come out to support an educationally-focused cause. When we heard about what Sponsor-A-Scholar was doing, we knew this was it.”
As this annual fundraising event continues to bring more awareness to this amazing cause, I can assure you that there will be many more local students who will benefit from the support it provides. And just as importantly, many more mentors who will inspire and be inspired.